The State of Cool

Minnesota Monthly has an article about the Twin Cities that makes some interesting observations. These are a few of my favorites:

Sure, there are some fluky reasons for our distinctive quality of life: a diverse economy, good health care, water. We owe a lot, in fact, to a man with a pencil-thin mustache and a dislike for socks: Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the man architect Ralph Rapson called “an exciting, invigorating, dynamic, arrogant, obnoxious bastard,” who chose Minneapolis for his world-class theater. Among the other contenders?
Milwaukee and Detroit. We now have one of the country’s most vibrant theater scenes; they have light beer and Oldsmobiles.

But mostly we’ve become cool not because of our blessings but because of what we’ve done with them—shared. Minnesotans, like most pioneer peoples, are hardly clubby, preferring open spaces, open government, heck, even open-faced sandwiches. We’re all in this Jell-O salad together. It’s a
particularly Midwestern thing. I was once in a Kansas City store (okay, a hip underwear boutique) for no more than 10 minutes when the owner asked me what I was doing at 1:30 a.m.; a funky theater troupe would be performing then down the street. Could you imagine a New Yorker asking
that of a tourist?

What’s more, we Midwesterners even kinda like each other. The Twin Cities, in particular, have what Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam calls high social capital—about the highest in the
country—and it’s why Putnam recently suggested that if Hurricane Katrina had struck here instead of New Orleans (the capital of low social capital), the response would have been different. “The folks in
St. Paul wouldn’t have been standing with guns on the bridges across the Mississippi up there,” he said, “trying to keep the people who were trying to flee devastated Minneapolis from getting into St. Paul.” To
say the least.

I spent most of my life in California, half a year in Las Vegas, and around a decade in Arkansas— but this has been my favorite of all the places I’ve lived so far. It’s not just cold, it’s cool. I also like Wisconsin more than I ever thought I would, where stories like this are still relatively common.